What is your favorite fishing lake? Launch Survey

Fishing in South Carolina: The Complete Guide

May 15, 2023 | 11 minute read
Reading Time: 11 minutes

Combining beautiful beaches, delicious food, and traditional southern hospitality, the “Palmetto State” has the perfect recipe for a holiday getaway. And if you mix in the amazing fishing South Carolina offers, this part of the East Coast becomes a destination where even your wildest angling dreams can come true. Don’t believe us? Just check out this detailed video!

With 187 miles of coastline to explore, you’ll find no shortage of inshore waters to test your skills in. You’ll discover extensive marshes, flats, and inlets that provide a habitat for numerous fish you can chase. Move offshore, and there’s the Gulf Stream, where some of the fiercest game fish roam. Meanwhile, freshwater enthusiasts will have several world-class lakes to enjoy at their leisure.

Sounds exciting, right? Then read on and we’ll cover everything you need to know about fishing in South Carolina.

What are you interested in?

Top Targets in South Carolina

When you consider that there’s a whole ocean full of fish to explore, as well as freshwater rivers and lakes, you can imagine that there are many species you can catch in the Palmetto State. So instead of naming them all, we’ll focus on the most popular ones that we hope you’ll enjoy hunting. Take a look:

Best Freshwater Targets in South Carolina

For freshwater anglers, South Carolina’s waters are a treasure trove. The state’s lakes and rivers play host to various game fish, with some of them also serving as popular venues for fishing tournaments. What this should tell you is that the action is good enough to draw in anglers from all over the country. So let’s review some of the species you’ll get to target here.

An angler in a cap and sunglasses, posing with a big Largemouth Bass he caught fishing on Lake Hartwell in South Carolina on a sunny day.
Photo courtesy of Electric City Fishing Charters.
  • Largemouth Bass: We’ll kick things off with a freshwater superstar – Largemouth Bass. They’re the most popular game fish in the US, period. Lakes such as Murray, Santee Cooper, and Greenwood are just some of the waters where elite-level Bass fishing awaits. Largemouth are available from early spring to late fall, with the fishing patterns changing each season.
  • Striped Bass: Known for their bulkiness and power, Striped Bass are another beloved fish you’ll encounter in South Carolina. Some of the spots to catch Stripers include Lakes Hartwell and Murray, but also the Intracoastal Waterway and the Savannah River. Spring and fall are generally the best times to go for them, though they’ll bite in summer, too.
  • Catfish: Capable of growing to monstrous sizes, Catfish are among the most exciting fighters you can face while fishing in freshwater. Three species prowl the state’s waters, including Flathead, Channel, and Blue Catfish. For the best action, you should make your way to the Santee Cooper Lakes, though they’re certainly not the only place to find Cats. And while they’ll bite throughout the year, early spring through summer is when the fishing is the hottest.
  • Crappie: Rejoicing everyone from kids to experienced anglers, Crappie are always a welcome sight. They’re equal parts delicious and fun to catch, making them true sought-after targets in South Carolina’s waters. The bite catches fire in spring when these fish move to the shallows. Visit lakes such as Clarks Hill, Fishing Creek, and Blalock, among others, and you’ll soon have some Crappie to put on the pan.
  • Trout: Anglers privy to the fine art of fly fishing will be glad to know there are also Trout swimming in the Palmetto State’s rivers and lakes. To catch them, you’ll have to venture upstate and explore the mountain waters. Beautiful Lake Jocassee is one of the prime locations to target Trout, but so are the Chattooga, Saluda, and Chauga Rivers.

Best Inshore Targets in South Carolina

Once you move away from rivers and lakes to South Carolina’s shores, there’ll be a whole new world of fishing to experience. And what a world it is. This part of the Atlantic coastline boasts a fantastic inshore fishery, with a range of species that’ll provide you with a challenge and serve some delicious meals.

A bearded angler in sunglasses and a hat, kneeling on one knee on the bow of his boat, holding a Redfish he caught inshore fishing in South Carolina, with the blurred waters and skies in the background.
Photo courtesy of On The Fly Outfitter.
  • Redfish: Bestowed with both brawn and beauty, Redfish are a staple species of South Carolina’s inshore fishing grounds. Anglers love catching them, whether it’s for the challenge or for food. Better yet, Redfish are readily available throughout the year, eagerly biting on a variety of baits and lures. The biggest, Bull Redfish, show up in April and May and September and October.
  • Spotted Seatrout: Also known as Speckled Trout (or Specks), these are another fish you’ll commonly catch while inshore fishing in South Carolina. Besides being fun to catch, Seatrout are also excellent table fare. Furthermore, you can catch them almost whenever you visit, but late fall and early winter are especially prolific.
  • Spanish Mackerel: Like many other species, Spanish Mackerel follow bait fish, meaning you’ll find them close to shore or further away, depending on how their food migrates. They visit South Carolina’s shores in spring and stay inshore and nearshore through fall. You can catch them from beaches and piers or aboard charter boats.
  • Sheepshead: Another delicious fish you’ll find in South Carolina’s waters are Sheepshead. They feed primarily on crustaceans, giving them a Shellfish taste. This is why you’ll sometimes hear anglers calling them “Poor Man’s Lobster.” In South Carolina, you can catch Sheepshead year-round, with summer yielding the best numbers and winter the biggest fish.
  • Flounder: In the different inlets, bays, marshes, and flats, Flounder have found a perfect home in South Carolina. You can catch them everywhere along the Atlantic coast, although the Myrtle Beach area is the most famous for its Flatfish action. Summer and fall are considered the best times to catch these tasty critters.

Of course, the fish we named thus far are just a few of the many available inshore in South Carolina. Black Drum are popular targets, and so are Weakfish, Whiting, and many other species. The state even enjoys an exciting Tarpon season each August and September, so there’s plenty on offer whenever you visit.

Best Nearshore and Offshore Targets in South Carolina

If you think of inshore fishing as an appetizer, then South Carolina’s nearshore and offshore waters are a smorgasbord. The list of species you can catch grows the further you go off the coast, and the fish get bigger, too. While it’d take a whole another article to cover them all, we’ll name some of the most common nearshore and offshore catches you’ll face in the Palmetto State.

An angler in sunglasses and a hat sitting on the side of a boat, holding a huge King Mackerel he reeled in on a sunny day with the water behind him.
Photo courtesy of Four Sons Charters.
  • Black Seabass: For anglers looking to put something in the cooler, there are hardly better targets than Black Seabass. They’re feisty creatures, fighting well for their size. You’ll also find them just a few miles offshore, on the reefs, making them reachable even on half-day trips. For the best shot at catching Black Seabass in South Carolina, fish during winter.
  • Cobia: South Carolina was once famous as one of the best Cobia fisheries out there. And while the glory days have somewhat passed, there are still plenty of opportunities to catch these curious fish. The action is best off Beaufort and Hilton Head Island, but you’ll find them elsewhere along the coast, too. Cobia often follow Sharks and Rays, and will sometimes even swim up to your boat. But while getting them to bite isn’t too hard, the battle itself is intense and supremely exciting.
  • King Mackerel: With streamlined bodies and jaws full of razor-sharp teeth, King Mackerel are born predators. They’ll strike your bait with force and grace you with a thrilling battle. In South Carolina, King Mackerel season runs from April to November, with the biggest specimens showing up around August. Depending on their moving patterns, they’re caught everywhere from the beach to the Gulf Stream, though the best fishing is usually around offshore ledges, reefs, and live bottoms.
  • Mahi Mahi: Known for their striking colors and exquisite taste, Mahi Mahi are an ever-popular target for South Carolina anglers. They show up in the offshore waters around May and the fishing stays hot through August. During this time, you can hunt for them by boarding charter boats in places such as Murrells Inlet, Charleston, and Myrtle Beach, among others.
  • Wahoo: In terms of appearance, Wahoo resemble King Mackerel. But between the two, Wahoo grow larger, swim faster, and pull harder. They’re game fish on steroids and their battles are nothing short of epic. In South Carolina, you’ll get to encounter Wahoo starting April, but late summer and early fall bode even better. They’ll wait for you offshore in the Gulf Stream.

In addition to these five species, there are at least a dozen more you’ll find dangling off the end of your line. Big Amberjack, Grouper, and Red Snapper stalk the underwater reefs. Meanwhile, the Gulf Stream enjoys yearly visits from Marlin and Sailfish, as well as Yellowfin and Bluefin Tuna. They’re the kind of fish anglers live to contend with.

South Carolina Fishing Seasons

South Carolina is blessed with excellent year-round fishing, though what you can catch each season varies. During winter, most of the saltwater angling is concentrated inshore. At that time, you’ll have your pick between Redfish, Black Drum, Sheepshead, and Speckled Trout. There’s also some action on the nearshore reefs, provided the weather allows you to get out.

The fishing improves as waters warm up, with April bringing the likes of Wahoo and Tuna to South Carolina’s part of the Gulf Stream. They’re followed by Mahi Mahi, Marlin, and Sailfish. By the time summer arrives, deep sea fishing will be on fire, teeming with all kinds of game fish. Inshore angling will stay solid as well, even improving during fall, once Bull Redfish and big Seatrout show up. Have a look at the chart below for a month-by-month breakdown.

Species Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Amberjack Good Good Good Good Good Good Good Good Good Good Good Good
Black Drum Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great
Bluefish Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great
Cobia Weak Weak Weak Good Good Great Great Great Good Fair Weak Weak
Flounder Weak Weak Weak Fair Good Good Good Great Great Great Good Weak
Kingfish Fair Fair Fair Good Good Great Great Great Good Fair Fair Fair
Mahi Mahi Fair Fair Fair Good Great Great Great Great Good Good Fair Fair
Marlin Weak Weak Weak Fair Good Great Great Great Great Good Fair Weak
Redfish Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great
Sailfish Weak Weak Weak Weak Fair Fair Great Great Great Good Fair Weak
Speckled Trout Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great Great
Tarpon Weak Weak Weak Fair Fair Good Great Great Good Fair Fair Weak
Tuna Good Good Good Good Great Great Great Great Good Good Good Good
Wahoo Weak Weak Weak Fair Good Great Great Great Great Great Good Fair

Meanwhile, freshwater fishing in South Carolina follows a separate pattern. Spring and fall are arguably the best seasons to catch most of the state’s stillwater denizens. This is because many fish tend to move to shallow waters during these times, making it that much easier to find them and entice the bite.

Summer fishing is very solid as well, though the fish will hide in deeper waters. Lastly, while winter might be the slowest season, there’s still good Catfish and Bass fishing on lakes such as Santee Cooper. Here’s how it all looks on a calendar:

Species Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Catfish Weak Weak Weak Fair Good Good Good Great Great Great Good Good
Crappie Good Good Good Good Good Great Great Good Great Great Good Fair
Striped Bass Good Good Good Great Great Good Good Good Great Great Great Good
Largemouth Bass Good Good Good Great Great Great Good Good Great Great Great Good
Perch Fair Fair Good Good Great Great Great Good Good Good Good Fair
Trout Weak Weak Good Great Great Good Fair Fair Good Great Great Fair

Top South Carolina Fishing Spots

By now, you might be thinking, “Okay, but where do I go to reel in all these fish?” If so, we have the exact thing you’re looking for. Click the images for more information on some of the best places to start your South Carolina adventure.

Types of Fishing in South Carolina

You can probably tell just how diverse fishing in South Carolina is. Therefore, there are also different techniques you can use to entice the bite, whether it’s fly fishing, trolling, bottom fishing, or anything else. Here, we’ll focus on the main types of fishing you can experience in the Palmetto State.

  • Inshore Fishing: South Carolina’s coast is comprised of different marshes, inlets, channels, and bays. Along these, you’ll find a whole range of inshore species to hunt for. Whether it’s sight fishing for Redfish or bottom fishing for Flounder and Sheepshead, there’s always something to do here. Compared to the open ocean, the coastal waters are much calmer, making inshore fishing in South Carolina the ideal family activity.
  • Deep Sea Fishing: But some anglers love hearing that drag scream. If you belong to that group, you’ll be right at home in South Carolina’s offshore waters. To recap from before, this part of the Atlantic Ocean is visited by Marlin, Tuna, Sailfish, and Wahoo every year. These big, speedy fish are some of the toughest fighters you can hope to encounter. Deep sea trips can start from anywhere on the coast of South Carolina, but Charleston, in particular, is a popular starting point.
  • Freshwater Fishing: South Carolina’s lakes and rivers are a freshwater angler’s dream. Marion and Moultrie, together known as the Santee Cooper Lakes, are the most popular destinations. However, other lakes such as Joccassee, Hartwell, and Murray, as well as the Waccamaw and Savannah Rivers are also top-tier locations. They all hold the promise of big Bass, hungry Catfish, chubby Stripers, and more. There’s also great fly fishing for Trout in the western part of the state.

Fishing Trips in South Carolina

Between all the lakes, rivers, inshore hotspots, and deep sea hunting grounds, it can be hard to decide where to begin. Luckily, South Carolina’s charter captains are there to help you figure it out. They’re specialists in what they do, whether it’s inshore, offshore, or freshwater fishing. So all you need to do is find one you like. Check them out.

Besides helping to tailor your trip to your exact preferences, your fishing guide will typically provide all the equipment. You’ll also get to make use of their boat and switch from spot to spot with ease. Whether you’re bringing the kids for an adventure or itching to reel in your very own trophy, your captain will know how to put you on the fish.

South Carolina Fishing Regulations

In South Carolina, anglers aged 16 and older must have fishing licenses to fish legally. However, when you fish on board saltwater charter boats, your captain will cover you. If you’re unsure whether you need a freshwater or a saltwater license, Highway 17 is considered the official dividing line. The waters west of the highway are considered freshwater, while everything east is saltwater. Check out the video below for a further breakdown:

If you’re fishing on your own, make sure to check out the DNR website and get up to date on fish size and bag limits before you head out. The fishing takes place year-round, but some species may be closed for harvest around the time you might be planning your trip. On charter boats, the captain will usually keep track of what’s legal to keep and what’s not, so you can relax and focus on the fishing.

South Carolina Fishing FAQ

Leave a reply
NameRequired *
Your comment Required *